Should we make socially irresponsible brands appealing again?
These are challenging times to evaluate whether or not we should work with brands that refuse to keep up with consumer attitudes about social change.
As designers, we dream about the brand challenges we’d love to work on with the criteria often cited as “fame, fortune and fun.” But there’s another consideration that increasingly occupies our thoughts that is more to do with what we’re contributing or detracting from society. We now talk about the “purpose” of brands to underpin strategy and design. If this falls short, we’re suddenly at a loss as to how to start building positive relationships with the consumer. In today’s ever-evolving market, there’s an increasing number of brands whose purpose has become out-dated, irrelevant or in some cases just socially irresponsible. We have to ask hard questions of ourselves before accepting the challenge of making it appealing again.
I struggle to want to apply company skills on Philip Morris brands because we can’t condone the harm that smokers (inadvertently) do to other people and, despite a long career designing single-use plastic bottles, I’d rather be helping Evian find a sustainable alternative. Barbie, your days as role-model to a new generation of girls are surely numbered, whatever you do is undermined by your body proportions and out-of-touch version of female empowerment. Wrigley’s gum remains unaccountable (and unapologetic) for covering every city pavement the world over with spat-out litter. And Spam remains a totally processed meat substance with a provenance still firmly rooted in post-war rationing. As for Hummer, does the world really need a road-going, military-grade tank right now?
Should brands such as these simply fade away and join the ranks of other extinct products which failed to keep pace with social change and consumer attitudes? Or should they genuinely redefine their purpose and behave responsibly? Of course, by doing so, it would ensure that all designers would want to work with them again.